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Mentoring Matters for Superintendents: December 2018

Leadership-life Fit: Do your habits serve you?

Habits are behaviors that have become automated such that we rarely give conscious attention to them. We do something because we’ve always done it—no questions asked…until we experience a failure or a less-than-desirable outcome or an uncomfortable leadership-life fit. James Clear offers two strategies for raising our awareness around the impact of our habits.

In his article, The Habits Scorecard: Use This Simple Exercise to Discover Which Habits You Should Change, Clear explains how Pointing-and-Calling can raise our level of awareness bringing a non-conscious habit into our conscious awareness. Pointing-and-Calling means identifying something, pointing it out, and naming  it aloud. For example, my husband likes to point-and-call before the kids go to a game or practice: Do you have your shoes? Your knee pads? Your water bottle? Your ibuprofen? Though the kids roll their eyes communicating, “I know this already. I’ve done it a thousand times,” it’s that thousand and first time that they forget something because “the more automatic a behavior becomes, the less likely we are to consciously think about it,” Clear notes.

Clear goes on to introduce the Habits Scorecard as a way of pointing-and-calling out our habits. Absent some type of point-and-call system, the consequences of our habits can sneak up on us.

Clear invites us to list our habits and evaluate them (in our case—asking whether they are contributing to a quality leadership-life fit). The intent is not to change anything, but simply to notice what is going on. No judgment or criticism—just observation! Then, you can decide if any are habits you should change in pursuit of a quality leadership-life fit.

If you’re interested in raising your awareness around your habits, learn how to create your own Habits Scorecard.

Leadership 101: How Leaders Can Build Trust

When educators trust their leaders and each other, achievement increases as evidenced by research. These 10 elements of trust and their descriptors capture what trust looks like in practice and how to cultivate it.

Jon Saphier discusses the specifics of building trust in his article in this month’s The Learning Professional. Since the world of education is different from the world of business in that superintendents (and principals) cannot readily hire and fire staff, offer promotions, or in other ways incentivize employees, they must depend upon their ability to influence and unite their staff to engage in the work necessary to increase student learning. Trust is at the core of this type of leadership.

What does trust look like?

1. Competence – the leader is on top of essential district operations and adept at handling crises.

2. Regard – the leader notices what is going well and acknowledges that; the leader takes an interest in the outside lives of district employees.

3. Psychological Safety – the leader is willing to be vulnerable, admit what he/she does not know, apologize when needed, and acknowledge mistakes. The leaders holds him/herself accountable, is transparent about what he/she is doing, and is a constant learner alongside staff. The result is staff feel safe making their own mistakes.

4. Honesty – the leader gives honest feedback to his/her direct reports about performance, is straightforward, creates transparency, confronts issues, engages in difficult conversations, and constantly clarifies expectations.

5. Integrity and Benevolence – the leader knows his/her core values and fiercely stands for them, acts in the best interest of the students and stakeholders in the district, and keeps his/her promises.

6. Courage – the leader protects employees from initiative overload and keeps them safe from negative, soul-sucking behavior internally.

7. Transparent decision-making – the leader solicits input, explains why and how it was used, sets limits, says no, and decides in the best interest of the district.

8. Results – the leader celebrates wins-big and small-and accomplishes the “right” things.

9. Respect – the leader listens actively, avoids supposition, considers multiple viewpoints, values everyone’s time, and has the backs of his/her staff.

10. Compassion and care—the leader does the little things that show kindness, is generous, and is appreciative.

Improvements in teaching and learning happen in the context of a culture of high  relational trust. Trust is the foundation for growing collective-efficacy—together we have what we need to positively impact student growth and achievement.

This article adapted from  Saphier, J. (2018). Let’s get specific about how leaders can build trust. The Learning Professional. 39(6), 14-16.

Access the full issue of The Learning Professional

Questions for Mentor-Mentee Processing:

·  How are you intentional about developing trust in your district?

·  If you had your administrative team rate you on a scale of 1-5 (1 low, 5, high) on each of the 10 elements of trust, how do you think you would score?

·  How do you think your principals would score if their staff were invited to rate them on these elements of trust?

·  What might you do to cultivate more trust in any one of the 10 areas?

Leading for Family Engagement

Involving families in schools leads to increased achievement, higher graduation rates, and better readiness for college. A new report refutes myths associated with family engagement and offers five areas to consider when creating conditions to engage families.

1. Attendance — Finding out from parents what they want for their student’s school experience is a critical first step as is getting the student to school. What strategies does your district have for communicating with parents when the student is absent? Do you text parents? What do they prefer? How do you partner with them around their student’s absence?

2. Data sharing — Sharing data is a common way for schools to communicate with families. Do your families understand the data you share with them? Can they navigate your student information system and how do you know? Is the sharing of data two-way? What data from families might assist you in supporting the student at school? Schools should make student data shareable, accessible, and understandable for families, rather than filled with jargon or confusing language.

3. Academic and social development — “Parents should be viewed as co-teachers in their children’s academic development.” How do we support our parents in promoting learning—both academic and social and emotional? Some districts hold tutoring sessions for parents so they can better support their children.  The key is asking parents what they need and want and how we can partner to achieve our shared goals.

4. Digital media — “Parents should be seen as agents to help their children learn safe and smart digital media skills. They can talk to their kids about how to identify factual information and be safe on social media. Digital apps can help parents reinforce subjects that children are learning in school, and schools can capitalize on messaging services — like texting — to keep parents up to date on missing assignments or class lesson plans.”

5. Transitions — Transition times, such as the periods between elementary, middle, and high school, are important for re-engaging families, especially because family engagement typically decreases as children get older. Mentorship programs and after school programs have been successful in helping families navigate transitions.

Questions for Mentor-Mentee Processing:

·  In what ways do you engage families?

·  What district-level policies and practices support family engagement?

·  Have you involved your Board in conversations about family engagement?

·  How do you gather information from families about how you can partner in their child’s education?

Learn More:

Access the full report by Heather Weiss, director of the Global Family Research prepared for the Carnegie Corporation of New York

Access an interview about ESSA, Family Engagement, and How Schools and Communities Can Partner to Help Kids Succeed with Karen Mapp, Harvard Senior Lecturer and expert in family engagement, here:

Leading when Parent Relationships Go South

This month’s School Administrator provides insight and support for when, despite your best efforts to communicate a change in practice, parents are still angry and upset.

The author shares her experience in reducing the number of bus routes thereby increasing walking distance to catch a bus and ride times. This change resulted in changing start and dismissal times as well and tightening up access to buildings. In spite of her diligent communication, parents were still frustrated and angry and turned to social media to vent.

To repair relationships with parents, the author implemented several strategies based upon treating others the way we want to be treated:

1. Make a connection—meet face-to-face and listen. You can stand by your decision and still ask for feedback as to how you might have better communicated.

2. Agree to disagree. If the meeting doesn’t yield a resolution, you still stand by your decision and let the parent know you’ll have to agree to disagree. Be sure to let your board president know he/she may be hearing from this parent.

3. Follow up. Make a note to follow up with this parent two weeks later to let him/her know that though you don’t agree, you appreciate that the child has this parent in his/her corner and that you are available should the parent want to follow up.

Read the full article 

Questions for Mentor-Mentee Processing:

·  How have you navigated parent complaints? How do you deal with difficult parent relationships?

·  What have you done when a dissatisfied parent has gone to the board?

·  How do you maintain positive relationships with families? 

Monthly checklist

These lists are intended as a guide—we encourage you to process in your mentor-mentee team to identify other items that may need your attention!